How to Write a Poem for School
You may have only scribbled personal poems in your diary or the margins of your notebooks, but when your teacher assigns poetry writing for homework, you’ll have to face the scary idea that your musings will now see the light of day and some of your classmates may read them. However, even amateurs can write poetry worthy of an A grade and not feel embarrassed when others read them. Aim to produce meaningful and original poetry; write carefully and edit for clarity.
Poems can cover any topic. Some topics demonstrate more intellectual depth than others, though, and will likely achieve a higher grade. Teenage angst is an overdone subject that often results in trite laments, usually from the first person perspective. Your topic doesn’t have to be completely original, but a fresh study of a familiar topic can make for an appealing read. For example, poems about nature fill poetry anthologies, but writing about nature in a city might prove interesting. Other fresh topics might include current social issues or an unusual object.
Style and Structure
All manner of poetry styles and structures exist, from free verse, with no structure at all, to rigidly structured poems such as sonnets, which follow a strict rhyme and rhythm scheme. Free-verse poetry can be easier to write, so you may feel inclined to write freely without having to fit your words into a structure or find rhymes for them. Attempting to learn and emulate or create your own complex poetic structure, though, may impress your teacher more.
Quality literature, especially poetry, makes effective use of literary devices, figurative phrases that cannot be understood literally. Metaphor ("she is a bird") and simile ("she eats like a bird") juxtapose two ideas that share the same qualities, while an oxymoron contrasts two opposites for a surprising effect ("cold heat"). Personification, when a writer describes an inanimate object as though it were human (“the tree swayed”), can bring life and vitality to a poem, while alliteration, the repetition of similar sounds ("white whispering willows"), influences the sound of a poem.
Writing and Editing
Poems can use fewer words to convey more meaning. Poetry doesn’t even require full sentences. Haiku, for example, consists of only a few descriptive phrases, usually containing no verbs, such as “rain after a tense storm.” Some poems have lines that contain only a single word for dramatic effect,or vary between long and short phrases. Even if you are writing free verse, roughly outlining your poem first is an effective way to bring coherence and focus to your writing. You could even write the poem out in longer sentences first and then go back and paraphrase in briefer, more interesting and creative phrases, leaving out any unnecessary words.
Nadine Smith has been writing since 2010. She teaches college writing and ESL courses and has several years experience tutoring all ages in English, ESL and literature. Nadine holds a Master of Arts in English language and literature from McMaster University in Ontario, Canada, where she led seminars as a teaching assistant.